The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST), South Korea and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), Switzerland are collaborating to establish a Joint Research Laboratory on Innovative Nanotechnologies for Medicine and Healthcare (Joint Lab). The Joint Lab aims to promote the research and development of innovative technologies, including micro-/nano-robotics and other nano-medical technologies for the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal (GI) and cardiovascular (CV) diseases.

Developing innovative technologies for gastrointestinal and cardiovascular diseases

GI and CV diseases are among the commonest diseases worldwide. The Department of Health (DH) in Hong Kong has recently predicted that over the next 10 years, one in 10 among persons aged 30 to 74 may suffer from CV events such as coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease or heart failure.

However, there are unmet needs and limitations in the current medical technologies to manage and treat these diseases. Micro-/nano-robotics and nano-technologies are seen as one of the potential areas which will enhance clinical management and care for patients. In the midst of these clinical needs, the three world-renowned universities: CUHK, DGIST and ETH Zurich are establishing a joint lab to study how to adopt these innovative technologies for GI and CV diseases.

Prof Philip Chiu says the collaboration targets to transform the research projects into clinical applications in the coming five year time. Photo credit: CUHK
Prof Philip Chiu says the collaboration targets to transform the research projects into clinical applications in the coming five year time. Photo credit: CUHK
 
Prof Philip Chiu, Director of the Chow Yuk Ho Technology Centre for Innovative Medicine, CUHK, said, ‘The CUHK Faculty of Medicine has been well known for its research strength in GI diseases. Our studies have modified clinical guidelines in preventing and treating ulcer bleeding in many countries around the world, found early tumor markers for GI cancers, and advanced GI-related endoscopic surgery. Scholars from the CUHK Faculty of Engineering are also very experienced in medical robotics. We believe our collaboration with DGIST and ETH Zurich will further sharpen our edge in these fields, and we expect to mark a milestone in local as well as global healthcare technology advancement. Most important of all, we strive to provide more and better treatment options to GI and CV patients.’

Initiation of three key research topics under Joint Lab

The tripartite alliance will focus on three research topics in the coming five years including i) innovative technologies for complete examination of the small intestine, ii) the study of intestinal diseases/conditions which are particularly difficult to diagnose and treat using existing technologies, and iii) innovative technologies for treatment of GI and CV diseases.

In practice, the research team will design and develop a magnetic field driven robotic platform with innovative technologies for GI diseases, and develop an innovative magnetic guided endoscope for small intestine check-up which is believed will greatly reduce the time for a complete examination to 30 minutes, half the time needed for a conventional one. As well as this, researchers will explore the clinical applications of the magnetic catheter steering system, for treating CV diseases.

Prof Li Zhang (right) says in combination with endoscopy, microbots can help enhance the imaging contrast, direct drug delivery and provide localized therapy with high precision in vivo. Photo credit: CUHK
Prof Li Zhang (right) says in combination with endoscopy, microbots can help enhance the imaging contrast, direct drug delivery and provide localized therapy with high precision in vivo. Photo credit: CUHK

Prof Dr Bradley Nelson, Director of the Multi-Scale Robotics Lab, Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems, ETH Zurich remarked, ‘Our Multi-Scale Robotics Lab is a highly multi-disciplinary group with focuses on robotics and systems. We also have a strong research strength in developing tools and processes required for fabricating and assembling micro-sized robots and nano-meter scale robotic components. We have been collaborating with DGIST since 2013 to develop innovative technology for CV diseases. In March this year, we forged an alliance partnership with CUHK to explore innovative technology for the medical treatment of GI diseases. And now, we have connected the bridges and work in synergy to create more possibilities.’

Prof Hongsoo Choi, Director of the Bio-Micro Robotics Lab, Department of Robotic Engineering, DGIST, echoed this. ‘As Korea (South Korea)’s leading institute in science and technology, we have our Bio-Micro Lab with expertise in microrobotics for biomedical applications. We established the DGIST-ETH Microrobotics Research Center (DEMRC) with ETH Zurich in 2013 to develop medical microrobots and new minimally invasive technology for innovative treatments of CV diseases. From there, we started a project using magnetic-field-guided catheter and micro-robotics technology for intervention in blocked arteries. And now, we are furthering collaboration on this, with CUHK, enabling technology for translational and clinical research on CV disease.’ MIMS

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